Every 4 years something BIG happens in Italy. Shops register a huge hike on flags sales and the tricolore hangs from every single balcony, people brush up on Mameli’s national anthem under the shower, and the patriotism is in the air now more than ever! Italian cities literally stop for 90 minutes to watch the azzurri… Yes folks, it’s WORLD CUP TIME!
As extreme as it sounds, believe me, this is the time when we truly feel “fratelli d’Italia” and part of the Nation. It is a bizarre phenomena and I’m actually noticing it now, probably because this will be the first mondiale I’ll be watching far from Italy (sigh!). The World Cup Fever is a “disease” that affects Italians, and they contract the virus, whose symptoms are very clear, more or less a month before the official starting date. First of all, soccer shifts from always hot topic to omnipresent discussion at the dinner table, the office, in the bars, on social media with EVERYONE acting and talking like an head coach.
For Italians everything is a form of art – talking, cooking, flirting – and being a tifoso is included. Read on to discover another unique side of the Italian culture… you’ll love us even more!
A History of 4 Stars: Is the 5th in Brazil?
(I’m sure that Italians were doing some gesture for fear of jinxing while reading this headline)
Rome, June 10 1934
Italia 2 – 1 Czechoslovakia
Colombes (France), June 19 1938
Italia 4 – 2 Hungary
Madrid, July 11 1982
Italia 3 – 1 West Germany
Berlin, July 9 2006
Italia 1 – 1 France (5 – 3 on penalties)
With 4 victories Italy is the second most successful national team in the history of the World Cup behind Brazil (5), also appearing in two finals (1970, 1994), reaching third place (1990) and fourth place (1978), respectively. Not bad, right?
La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the most popular Italian sport newspapers, reported a study of the “Football Research in an Enlarged Europe” which cites that only 54% of the Italians will turn on the television to watch the World Cup. Well, sorry Gazzetta, but I don’t believe it. Of course we are disappointed by the bad performance in South Africa but us Italians have this programmed in our blood and we would never let our national heroes play those 90 minutes alone. We literally feel part of the game, like we are in the field running with them, and we actively participate to the match with pre-game rituals, prayers, cursing against the referee, cheering and with loud gesticulations practically taking over the job of the coach.
When I was telling you before that the World Cup Fever is like a disease I forgot to mention what could happen in the worst case scenario: the theory-devising fan. Yes, because before/during/after the matches is all about superstition and theories. I’ve read some of these in the past few weeks and there are two of them that almost convinced me that the 5th star we are missing will be ours this time. The first one is about the Rolling Stones, I know it’s odd but just bear with me. I read this theory in an Italian website (of course!) and basically it says that every time that the Rolling Stones come to Italy, we win the World Cup. The first episode is on June 11, 1982, day of the final Italy – Germany. Jagger pushed their concert up to the afternoon because the Azzurri were playing the final that night and, prophet that the Rolling Stones Star apparently is, he predicted the result as 3-1 for Italy (please, scroll up if you don’t remember how the game ended!). And if this seems just a coincidence, they also performed on July 11, 2006, two days after the epic win in Berlin. But there is yet another theory that blew my mind and this one is way more mystical. This sport website says we will win because of Francis recently became Pope. I know this theory seems a bit odd but after every pontiff election Italy wins. In October 1978 John Paul II became the Pope and in the next Word Cup, 1982, Italy won the semifinal in Poland – Woytila’s nation – and in the final against Germany won it’s 3rd World Cup. Same thing happened with Pope Ratzinger. He was elected in 2005 and in 2006 Italy plays the semifinal against Germany – Ratzinger’s nation – and won. So, if the theory holds true, this year we will play the semifinals against Argentina, since the new Pope is from there, but let’s not comment about who may be the rival team in the final!
Pre-game Rituals: How Italians Watch the Game
There are infinite reasons to go to Italy, as you well know, but this time of the year a trip would be worth it if only for an anthropological study of Italian tifosi & scaramanzia (superstitious rituals). What you must understand is that from our singular point of view the result of a soccer match depends on the players’ performance but also the tifosi rituals, because if you forgot to wear your lucky underwear, it’s your fault that they lost! (You have been given fair warning…)
First thing you need to know is that there are different kinds of tifosi, a social study sponsored by Osservatorio Birra Moretti identified 6 types:
1) Super fan: for him/her Saturday means soccer, never misses a match and goes to the stadium on every possible occasion.
2) Couch fan: very passionate about soccer but he/she prefers to watch the game at home and with the same friends.
3) Sunday analyst: he/she loves soccer but relaxes while watching and is willing to watch it with friends or alone.
4) The spectator of the great occasions: he/she watches only the big matches as an opportunity to spend time with friends.
5) The against soccer person: he/she is not really interested in soccer and doesn’t want to get involved in discussions about it.
6) Desperate partner: he/she doesn’t care about soccer but has a partner that “forces” him/her to like it.
It is pretty surprising to me that the most of the Italians (31%) are Couch Fans according to the study and – wait for it – the 34% of the Super fans are women!
Depending on the kind of tifoso, you’ll notice different and crazy pre-game rituals. I spent days thinking about my friends propitiatory habits but instead of speculating, I went straight to the source, asking them directly with a Facebook appeal. And believe me, some of these are more mind-blowing than I remember!
Let’s start with the basic: what do we drink during soccer games? I know it’s hard to picture it but we don’t always hold a glass of wine in our hand. The soccer-game-must is beer, preferably Peroni. Then, with whom? The game is a moment to enjoy with your friends. Possibly always the same ones with each and every one sitting in the same spot as they always do. Always, no exceptions. An ex-friend – ex because he was promptly un-friended after the following comment – said that women aren’t allowed to watch the game with him. Another, and I’m wondering if he deserves to be un-friended as well, said that he needs to be surrounded by at least 80% men because women don’t know anything about soccer and cheer to offside goals. The location is very important. You’ll want to watch the game in the same bar/house/square you watched the it last time they won and also always say the same sentences every time there is a goal, corner kick, penalty… you get the point. Then when Italy scores you jump, scream, shake hands, hug and kiss everyone close to you, no matter if they are strangers. If Italy wins the match everyone goes downtown to celebrate. No matter what time it is you’ll always find tifosi in the main squares and along the roads, sounding their car horn with the Italian flag waving outside the windows. You’ll hear people cheering, weeping tears of joy… But the most amazing sensation is that feeling of being united, cheering for the same team, because once every 4 years we are just azzurri and nothing else matters. Last but not least, we sing out the national anthem proudly!
Where to Experience Italian Soccer
The atmosphere of World Cup is something magic and if you are so lucky to be in Italy these days you definitely should watch a match. Check out the World Cup calendar and experience soccer like an Italian – it’s not difficult to find a bar to watch it. If you aren’t so lucky to be in Italy during the World Cup but still want the see some Italian tifosi in action, don’t worry, you have other possibilities. You can live soccer as an Italian every Sunday during the championship season, starting from August 31st. It’s not going to be as spectacular as the Word Cup experience but Italian tifosi won’t let you down. I promise that watching a live game in a stadium will maximize your Italian trip.
When I moved to Chicago one of my concerns – besides where to find real Italian food – was also how to follow the soccer championship and where to watch the World Cup because it is not fun watching the games alone! So I start doing some research and I found out that Italian soccer is big even outside Italy. Here in Chicago there are some Italian soccer fan clubs and I was thrilled when I found it out. I discovered that Italy isn’t just popular because of food and wine, fashion, culture and history but also because of our national game. I reached out to these guys expecting to get in touch with some Italians but “niente italiani.” It seems like that you don’t have to be Italian to love Italian soccer, which was such a surprise to me! One of the most active soccer clubs is the Juventus Fan Club Chicago and Jakub, one of the guys that runs the club, is not Italian, but can be defined as a Super fan (or better yet, a Super Super fan) according to the social study I mentioned before. They put together a logo, social media pages and start connecting with other tifosi.
The club organizes meet-up to watch the games together and even goes to Italy to watch live games at the stadium. I’m not a juventina (I need to stress this point, so as not to upset my father) but I became friends with Jakub and I learned that the passion for Italian soccer doesn’t necessary come out from your nationality. It’s more about getting into this sport, its values and most of all its protagonists. So soccer is not just a hobby or a passion, but also a great way to meet new people and get to know a culture and a country. Therefore, my advice is to check out if there is an Italian soccer club in your city and join them for a match, or even better, make sure to watch a live game during your next trip to Italy!
Tomorrow Italy will perform its first World Cup match against England. “In bocca al lupo Azzurri”, Italians and non-Italians will proudly cheer, even from Chicago!
How much do you like Italian soccer?